Degradation during service life, or after careless disposal, is a chemical change that drastically reduces the average molecular weight of the polyvinyl chloride polymer. Since the mechanical integrity of a plastic depends on its high average molecular weight, wear and tear inevitably weakens the material. Weathering degradation of plastics results in their surface embrittlement and microcracking, yielding microparticles that continue on in the environment. Also known as microplastics, these particles act like sponges and soak up persistent organic pollutants (POPs) around them. Thus laden with high levels of POPs, the microparticles are often ingested by organisms in the biosphere.